New York, Kipling, and Midnight at the Electric…

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We were in New York last weekend, but although it was a short visit, there was still time to go to the Strand. We arrived at 10:55 a.m. on Sunday for the bookstore’s 11:00 a.m. opening, and there were people lining up outside.  It was a wonderful moment – to see a line at a bookstore. I should have taken a picture, but instead we hurried into line. One of the best things about the Strand is the display signs. This was one of our favorites:

I purchased a copy of Midnight at the Electric, a young adult novel by Jodi Lynn Anderson, to read on the train ride home.  The starred Kirkus review sparked my interest, but I didn’t expect the novel to be so powerful.

This is a really good book and definitely one to add to your list for anyone ages 12 and over.  It opens in the year 2065 and a sixteen-year-old named Adri is preparing to move to Mars. To train for the launch and life on Mars, Adri goes to Kansas to stay with her 107-year-old cousin, Lily. At Lily’s house, Adri finds letters that lead her to the story of Catherine, who lived during the Dust Bowl and then to Lenore, who lived in England during WWI. It sounds confusing, but all of the stories are connected in a way that left me tearful at the end of the book. This is my favorite kind of reading experience – a book that was not on my “list,” but ended up being one of my favorites of this year.

Speaking of the Strand, this week’s The New Yorker cover is awesome – an illustration by Jenny Kroik of a woman shopping at New York’s go-to independent bookstore. This one will find a place on our walls.

While we were in New York, we saw an exhibit at the Bard Graduate Center. John Lockwood Kipling: Arts & Crafts in the Punjab and London focuses on Kipling’s work as an illustrator and designer in British India. He was also the father of Rudyard Kipling, the author of The Jungle Book and Kim.  I read about the exhibit when it was at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, but it would have been a challenging day trip.

Kipling spent ten years teaching at the Sir Jamsetjee Jeejeebhoy School of Art in Bombay (now Mumbai) and eighteen years as the curator of the  Lahore Museum in Pakistan. His influence on both cities was remarkable. As part of the exhibit, there are videos about the buildings he helped to design, but his illustrations are the stars.

This one is interesting. It’s a menu for Rudyard Kipling’s twenty-fifth birthday celebration. Designed and drawn by John Lockwood Kipling, the illustration shows Rudyard as a baby being carried and below that, Lockwood and his wife looking into Rudyard’s crib. The adult Rudyard is the man smoking a pipe.  It’s hard to read the menu, but it includes turbot and oyster sauce and plum pudding.

This is an 1884 illustration of Rudyard’s sister, Trix, that reads: “An unlessoned girl, unschooled, unpracticed, happy in this — she is not yet so old, but she may learn.” Not sure what to make of that, but a beautiful picture.

I’ve also been working with Nancy Perry, my friend and colleague at the Norwell Public Library, to prepare for our annual presentation of our favorite children’s books of the year.  This year’s program will be on Thursday, November 30 at the James Library in Norwell at 7:00 p.m. It is a free and fun evening of conversation about books. An added bonus is that Buttonwood Books and Toys will be there to sell books. Please join us if you can.

At school, I’m reading Countdown by Deborah Wiles with our middle school students as part of our focus on life in post-WWII life in America. Inly’s 6th graders are learning how to be responsible and smart news consumers. Yes, we are talking about how to spot fake news!  We are looking at how to navigate the wild world of the internet and who to trust – no easy task in this divisive climate, but the kids are having fun.

I’ve been somewhat obsessed with book covers recently.  Given all of the “noise” in our ears and eyes, a book cover that causes you to stop and look is powerful.  Books may be old technology, but seeing someone’s art as a billboard for a story, is one of the greatest pleasures of book shopping.

Here are a few that caught my attention this week:

A friend saw this copy of Brave New World at her parent’s house –

Ruth Bader Ginsburg: The Case of RBG vs. Inequality by Jonah Winter has a wonderful dust jacket, but….

This is what’s under the jacket –

And the end pages are worth the price of the book –

All of the sudden, it’s really cold and windy and there is no denying that winter is almost here. My response was to buy these:

Happy Reading!


Series Books, A Pretend King, and a Pig….

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The other day, unpacking a box of new books, I noticed that every one of them was part of a series. Lots of kids were waiting for them, and it’s always fun to make special deliveries, but it occurred to me that many of the new books we get are installments in popular series. Sometimes, while shelving Dog Man or The Bad Guys, I look at the stand-alone books and wonder how to get them into kids’ hands.  I totally understand their passion for a series. It’s fun to re-enter the lives of familiar characters and worlds – like seeing an old friend. And for new readers, a series can help build fluency since the basic structure of each book remains the same.

When I display new books, older students will often ask if a book is going to be a part of a series. I don’t lie, but I don’t want to discourage them from reading it so I give a non-committal answer like “that would be awesome!”

Of course, the best way to sell a book is reading it myself so this week I read two new stand alone middle grade novels, The Player King by Avi and Saving Marty by Paul Griffin.

Avi’s new book is a rags to riches (and back again) set in 15th century England. A young orphan boy, Lambert Simnel, is “discovered” by a friar with his own agenda who transforms Lambert into the prior king’s nephew and the rightful heir to the throne. After a “My Fair Lady-style”crash course – polishing the boy’s appearance and language, he successfully fools others (and himself) that he is the true  king. Naturally, his efforts do not go over too well with Henry VII’s crowd, and palace intrigue and a big battle ensues. I thought the story seemed somewhat far-fetched, but some internet research backed it up.  Recommend The Player King to fans of historical fiction.

I chose Saving Marty because it’s a story about a boy trying to save a pig.  Of course, it reminds me of Wilbur, another pig who was rescued from becoming a ham sandwich. While Saving Marty is not Charlotte’s Web, it is a lovely and moving story.

At the center is Renzo, a boy who lives with his mother and grandfather. Since Renzo’s father’s death, the family has struggled to make ends meet, relying on their failing peach farm and the sale of pigs and puppies among other work. Marty is Renzo’s best friend. He’s a pig, but he doesn’t know that. Marty happily follows the family dog around and sleeps indoors. He’s grown up as a house-pig, and Renzo depends on him for friendship. Saving Marty is a gentle book. In some ways the tone is reminiscent of one of my favorite adult novels, Jim the Boy by Tony Earley – hard truths at the center, wrapped up in the strength of family.

One of my favorite book lists of the year was released this week. The New York Times Book Review announced its 10 Best Illustrated Children’s Books of 2017.  Here’s a link to the list:

There are three books I predicted and hoped would be on the list: On A Magical Do-Nothing Day by Beatrice Alemagna, Town Is By the Sea illustrated by Sydney Smith, and The Way Home in the Night by Akiko Miyakoshi.

Two are new to me, but I ordered them today: Plume by  Isabelle Simler and Feather by Rémi Courgeon.

There may be too many series on the library shelves, but what did I order this week?  A new series. After reading this New York Times article about Hilde Cracks the Case by Hilde Lysiak and her father, Matthew Lysiak, I had to order it.

The perfect combination of a real girl, solving real mysteries, and now real books!

And finally….. Halloween. I took this picture of students looking at new books on my desk:

A friend who lives in Cambridge sent these two pictures of a neighborhood that chooses a Halloween theme for their decorations. This year….books!

Happy Reading!

Book Covers – and a Walk Through Boston History….

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According to many newspaper and industry publications, e-book sales are in decline and many readers are returning to print. At the same time, publishers are responding by producing beautiful books that are impossible to replicate on the screen.  I see it every time I open a new box of books in the school library. It’s not only the covers, but the endpapers, type face, and the inside illustrations.

Look at the covers of these six books:

The last one, A Stitch in Time by Daphne Kalmar, won’t be out until June, but a colleague who knows how much I enjoy cover art, shared it with me.

Sometimes there is a bonus piece of art under the dust jacket. I just did a quick treasure hunt around my desk, peeking behind dust jackets – and here’s what I found:

Town Is by the Sea by Joanne Schwartz and Sydney Smith

My Brigadista Year by Katherine Paterson

The translation, by the way, which I just texted a Spanish-speaking friend about is: We only have ____ days left to eradicate illiteracy. A powerful question to ask on a book cover.

Miguel’s Brave Knight by Margarita Engle and Raul Colon

It promises to be a fun holiday book shopping season!

One of Inly’s Children’s House teachers experienced a different book cover-related challenge. As wonderful as the jackets are, Lauren’s pre-school age students did not appreciate the “extra paper” on their classroom books. As the children took them off, Lauren collected them.  And then….during a paper weaving activity, they became lunchtime placemats. Do you see what books they are?

Yesterday was a spectacular fall day in Boston, and my husband and I took a walking tour of Mt. Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge.  Called Isabella Stewart Gardner and Her Circle of Influence, the 90-minute walk included stories of Gardner’s friends, a fascinating group of artists, scholars, and philanthropists.  Our tour guide focused on many of the young men whom, in her words, Gardner “collected.”  One of the most interesting was Henry Davis Sleeper, a collector and interior designer best known for his Gloucester home, Beauport. If you live anywhere within driving distance of Gloucester, I highly recommend adding a visit to your “places to visit” list.  The house is extraordinary. My favorite room is the round library:

Many of the memorials at Mt. Auburn are moving and beautiful, but there are two we found especially heartbreaking:

There were also hawks flying and trees that had reached the peak of their fall glory. A perfect fall day to reflect on the inevitably of change and to feel grateful to live in such a beautiful place.





What Makes a Good Read-Aloud?

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There is no shortage of excellent picture books. Library and bookstore shelves are overflowing with 32-page worlds to entertain and inspire, but working in a school library has made me particularly focused on books that are good read-alouds. I read stacks of picture books, many of which are perfect for one-on-one sharing, but finding the perfect story to entertain a group of young children is more challenging.  A book that successfully hits the sweet spot ticks lots of boxes:

  • Pacing.  It can’t be too text heavy, and the action has to keep moving
  • The book has to be large enough for a group to see.  Peter Rabbit is awesome, but his maneuverings around Mr. McGregor are best seen up close
  • It’s relatable to lots of kids. There are kids who love football and kids who love bugs. We read books about everything, but the best read aloud books have wide appeal
  • The pictures need to both enhance and extend the action. This is key. The perfect picture book is helping the listeners by showing what’s happening in the text – while also moving the story along
  • The characters are memorable and distinctive.  Think of the pigeon!

Here are ten of the Inly Library’s go-to read aloud books:

Milo’s Hat Trick by Jon Agee

Leave Me Alone! by Vera Brosgol

Mother Bruce by Ryan Higgins

The Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Pena

The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats

Chicken in Space by Adam Lehrhaupt

The Great Gracie Chase by Cynthia Rylant

Strictly No Elephants by Lisa Mantchev

The Pigeon Books by Mo Willems

And new to the “Top Ten” list is…..

I’m Afraid Your Teddy Is In Trouble Today by Jancee Dunn and Scott Nash

If your stuffed animals look like they have a secret, this book may be the answer. A very cute teddy bear invites his friends over for a party and the results are predictable – a mess in the kitchen, jumping on the bed, and drawing on the walls.  Read I’m Afraid Your Teddy Is In Trouble Today with No, David! by David Shannon for a hijinks-filled story time!

From a group of stuffed animals having a party to a very quiet book about windows….

The other new picture book I want to share this week is better for close looking. Windows by Julia Denos invites children to take an evening walk around a neighborhood and look through the windows. The book is written in second person, making it clear that the child reading this book is a participant in the walk: “You can take a walk, out your door into the almost-night. You might pass a cat or an early raccoon taking a bath in squares of yellow light.”

Windows is especially wonderful because not only does it glow with life on every page, but the boy in the book, in an homage to Peter from The Snowy Day, is a young black boy wearing a red hooded sweatshirt.

Denos’s book would be perfectly matched with to The Sound of Silence by Katrina Goldsatto and Sidewalk Flowers by JonArno Lawson – stories about walking and observing.


Inly’s Lower Elementary students have completed their first book projects of the year, and as always, many are delightful and creative. One student, a first grade boy, based his project on Stepping Stones: A Refugee Family’s Journey by Margriet Ruurs and illustrations by Nizar Ali Badr.

Happy Reading!

Things I’m Thinking About….


Like everyone I know, my head is spinning: hurricanes, Las Vegas, and Santa Rosa – along with all of the news from Washington.  Friends recommend taking a news break, and I know they’re right.  But I’ve been addicted to news and reading analysis of current events since college; it is the water I swim in.  Every day I dive in again with the heightened awareness that I am also responsible for putting words and ideas into the minds of our students.

With that in mind, I participated in a day-long conference at Moses Brown in Providence yesterday. The subject of the conference was how to help students discern truth in an age of polarization and “fake news.”  Moses Brown is a Quaker school, dedicated, in their words, to: “….advocating and standing up for a society that is fair and just.”  Their philosophy was the starting point for a day of thought and honest discussion.  Every teacher, when asked what brought them to the conference, expressed a commitment to helping kids discern truth, but as one participant said, “there is no longer an agreed upon truth.”  We each have our own, and we can select our own echo chambers to confirm our beliefs. We began to ask if, as a society, we can agree on ethics and morals. We looked at websites and tried to check our biases. We asked challenging questions for which there are no easy answers. I drove home with more questions than answers, but I appreciated sharing the day with teachers who challenged me with new questions to consider.

I’m also thinking about a new picture book called Shelter by Celine Claire.  I read it yesterday and again this morning. Shelter is a sweet and beautiful story about kindness and generosity. The story opens when a big storm is approaching, and all of the forest animals are safely in their homes when “two figures emerge from the fog” and ask for help. The animals don’t want to help the strangers, but there is a turn of events that makes things more interesting. Shelter is an absolutely essential book for parents and teachers who want to start a conversation about empathy and about what truly matters. I remember years ago hearing that some of Leo Lionni’s picture books have been used in philosophy classes. Shelter could be added to the syllabus.

I’m also thinking about yesterday’s StoryCorps segment on NPR’s Morning Edition. Every Friday, I look forward to hearing this short uplifting piece among the many other stories that aren’t as uplifting. This past Friday’s was a good reminder of the power of libraries. Here’s a link:

I’ve also spent a few days looking at the cover of this middle grade novel:

I absolutely judged The Secret of Nightingale Wood by its cover – and the wonderful reviews I read quickly during Inly’s recent book fair.  The art was done by Helen Crawford-White, a British illustrator and graphic designer.

“Suppose I were to begin by saying that I had fallen in love with a color.”
― Maggie Nelson, Bluets

It’s the blue of the book cover I’m drawn to, a color that is taking more space in my thoughts these days. I’m drawn to it everywhere, sometimes catching my breath at its beauty. The blue of Mary’s robes in Italian paintings, the blue of the sky, and in the blues I see in photographs or book covers.

Here are some of my favorite blues:

In Morocco, there is a city called Chefchaouen that is known for its blue walls.  I had never heard of it until I saw this photograph on Instagram:

Little Girl in Blue by Modigliani

The Notre Dame Basilica in Montreal

The roof of an outside room at Naumkeag, a historic house in Stockbridge

The blue of this Azurite stone I saw in a display at Amherst College

The blue in Botticelli’s Madonna of the Book

The blue in this detail of a watercolor by John Singer Sargent

It’s a treasure hunt with no end, and I am continuously surprised by its very existence. I am a collector of blue.



The Best Nonfiction Picture Books….


When I was in middle school (or junior high as it was called), I wanted to learn about Walt Disney so I went to the Xenia Library and checked this book out:

I can’t recall many details about Walt, but I can clearly picture myself finding this bright blue book on the library’s adult shelves. This was the 1970s. There were no “Who Was” books, and most of the biographies in the children’s room were about George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.  Nothing against our first and sixteenth presidents, but my non-fiction diet was limited.

Today we live in a golden age for picture book biographies. Kids can still read about presidents, but they can also learn about inventors and athletes and artists and writers. Some of the best books focus on an incident from a well-known person’s childhood that guided their careers. Others focus on challenges that stood in the way of success. The best of them leave a young reader wanting to know more.

Below are five of the most inspirational new picture book biographies – and five favorites from the past few years.  There’s a lot to learn from all of these people:

The Best of the New:

Margaret and the Moon: How Margaret Hamilton Saved the First Lunar Landing by Dean Robbins and illustrated by Lucy Knisley

All of these books celebrate curiosity, and Margaret Hamilton, the American computer scientist, began asking big questions when she was a little girl: “Why didn’t more girls grow up to be doctors? Or scientists? Or anything else they wanted,” she asks.  Knisley’s lively cartoon-like illustrations show the young Margaret reading and drawing and playing the piano before learning to write code.  As the director of software programming for an MIT laboratory working for NASA, Margaret is instrumental in guiding Apollo 8 and 9 and 10.  When NASA was ready to send a man to the moon, they counted on Margaret’s code:

Margaret and the Moon will inspire young readers to shoot for the moon!

Shark Lady: The True Story of How Eugenie Clark Became the Ocean’s Most Fearless Scientist by Jess Keating and illustrated by Marta Alvarez Miguens

From her first visit to an Aquarium in New York, Eugenie Clark was fascinated by sharks. Although there was pressure on Eugenie to follow a more traditional path, she devoted herself to learning “everything she could about them,” and became a respected scientist who was called the Shark Lady!

I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark by Debbie Levy and illustrated by Elizabeth Baddeley

It’s impossible not to be inspired by the career and determination of the 84-year-old associate justice of the United States Supreme Court.  There’s even a new book, The RBG Workout written by her personal trainer, being published next week!  Her philosophy of “disagreeing without being disagreeable” is a good guide during these divisive times.

The Youngest Marcher: The Story of Audrey Faye Hendricks, a Young Civil Rights Activist by Cynthia Levinson and illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton

Sometimes picture book biographies for young readers can tell stories about people we haven’t heard about before.  Audrey Faye Hendricks is a perfect example of picture book as introduction to a brave person and an important movement. She was only nine-years-old when she marched for freedom in the Birmingham Children’s March. The picture of a little girl sleeping on a bare mattress in a jail cell is a powerful example of personal sacrifice and commitment to a cause.  After I read this book to a group of 4th and 5th graders last year, I asked them if there was anything they felt strongly enough about that they would take a risk.

A Boy, A Mouse, and a Spider: The Story of E.B. White by Barbara Herkert ; illustrated by Lauren Castillo

This book will be published in two weeks, but I’ve seen most of it in various forms, and I will be standing by the school mailbox on October 24. The book opens with young Elwyn White being sick in bed and making friends with a mouse. He begins writing in a journal and the animals he loved so much – and we know where that leads….

And here are five picture book biographies I regularly pull from Inly’s shelf:

The Dinosaurs of Waterhouse Hawkins by Barbara Kerley and illustrated by Brian Selznick (a book about a man who, in the 1800s, created life size model of dinosaurs.  I’m not a dinosaur enthusiast, but this is hands-down one of the best books about passion and determination I’ve ever read.  When kids are tempted to give up, I show them this book.)

The Day-Glo Brothers: The True Story of Bob and Joe Switzer’s Bright Ideas and Brand-New Colors by Chris Barton and illustrated by  Tony Persiani (the story of the brothers who figured out how to create fluorescent colors.  A timely book about innovation and creativity!)

Wilma Unlimited: How Wilma Rudolph Became the World’s Fastest Woman by Kathleen Kruss and illustrated by David Diaz (I first read this book to my son when he was seven or eight, and it entered our weekly rotation.  An amazing story of overcoming tremendous odds.)

Lou Gehrig: The Luckiest Man by David Adler and illustrated by Terry Widener (It’s hard to read the closing pages of Gehrig’s life story without welling up. If a teacher or friend asks you to recommend a good book about dignity, this is the one.)

When Marian Sang: The True Recital of Marian Anderson by Pam Munoz Ryan and illustred by Brian Selznick (Selznick’s illustrations capture the drama and historical significance of the moment Marian Anderson sang in front of the Lincoln Monument.)

I’m leaving so many good book off this list that deserve to be there: Odd Boy Out: Young Albert Einstein by Don Brown, Nelson Mandela by Kadir Nelson, the Big Words series by Doreen Rappaport, Harvesting Hope: The Story of Cesar Chavez by Kathleen Krull.  All classics among an embarrassment of riches!

Happy Reading!


Reading Around the World – and A Reader Writing His Own Story…

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We started our trip around the world in Canada this year – mostly because I was excited to share Carson Crosses Canada by Linda Bailey with our lower elementary students.

Inly has a three-year curriculum that includes the Ancient World, America, and the World. This is a “world year,” and my goal is to read stories from authors outside of the United States and follow our progress on a map. Exceptions to our international reading will be made for major holidays – my favorite part of Halloween is The Hallo-Wiener by Dav Pilkey!

We are not traveling efficiently, but rather on a whim. Since school started, we’ve read stories set in Canada, Japan, and India. In the interest of a broader selection, the rules are somewhat flexible. Preferably, the author or illustrator will live in the country we read about, but the setting works too.  For example, Adele and Simon in China by Barbara McClintock will be included because it’s a wonderful introduction to China.

With impeccable timing, four new books arrived last week that are perfect additions to our journey:

Tea With Oliver by Mika Song

I would read this book to my classes anyway, but the fact that Song grew up in the Philippines makes it even better. Oliver is a cat who “talks to himself a lot.” More than anything, Oliver wants to have tea with a friend.  The problem is that he literally doesn’t see Philbert, a mouse who lives under the couch and would love to join Oliver for tea.  Many potential tea friends show up for a party, but they are far too busy dancing to want tea. There’s a happy ending to a story as sweet as the cookies that appear on the last page!

Robinson by Peter Sis

Sis’s beautiful new book is based on a experience he had as a child in the Czech Republic. He went to a costume party dressed as one of his heroes, Robinson Crusoe, but the other children don’t appreciate his costume. Feeling embarrassed, the young boy goes home and crawls into his bed where, in a dream sequence that reminds me  of Max sailing off “through night and day….to where the wild things are” he arrives in a world of his own imagination.

On a Magical Do-Nothing Day by Beatrice Alemagna

One of the most beautiful books published in the last few years is A Lion in Paris which was also written and illustrated by Alemagna.  This one is equally special. Like Robinson by Peter Sis, it is a tribute to the imagination. A mom and a child arrive at a cabin on a rainy day, and the child immediately begins playing a hand-held video game. “Actually,” the text reads, “I was just pressing the same button over and over.”  When mom takes the game away and encourages her child to go outdoors, the child tucks the video game into the pocket of the bright orange rain slicker.  It’s not long, though, before the game falls into the pond.  The adventures, both literal and magical, begin after that.

Still Stuck by Shinsuke Yoshitake

Undoubtedly, there will be a week when everyone is feeling a little grumpy. Perhaps a grey day in January?  This book by the Japanese author and illustrator is laugh-out-loud funny and a sweet spot read-aloud for young children.  A little boy, determined to undress himself before his bath, gets stuck in his shirt. Naturally, he begins to wonder what life would be like if he stayed stuck in his shirt!

A Memorable Library Visit…..

Among the greatest pleasures of working in a school library are those unexpected moments when you can literally witness a child in the act of creation – not the kind of creating that happens with a 3D printer, but building with words. On Friday, while Mary and I were talking about the week ahead, a student came into the library. He explained that he was working on an identity project and wanted to make a list of the books he loves. With joy and determination, he stacked books all over the table, stories that together are a part of who he is. After watching him collecting and typing or a few minutes, Mary and I began to help. We shelved while he visited every shelf to make sure he hadn’t forgotten anything.

With his permission, here are some of the books on his list:

The Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle

The Boundless by Kenneth Oppel

Books by Stuart Gibbs

books by Kelly Barnhill

Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson

Books by Chris Grabenstein

Books by Brian Selznick

Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling

And he didn’t forget picture books…

Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crocket Johnson

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst

Caps for Sale by Esphyr Slobodkina

Harry the Dirty Dog by Gene Zion

There were many others, but he may still be adding titles…….

Happy Reading!